Don't get me wrong. I love reading Zane Grey stories, especially those about Arizona and the Rim Country. But I think he missed a wonderful opportunity to delve into a subject he was perfectly suited to explore.
In the early 1920s. Grey visited Yuma to talk to Arizona Charlie Meadows about the details of the Pleasant Valley War. "To the Last Man" was under way, and Grey was finding it difficult to pry information out of survivors of that conflict. Charlie's brother John V. Meadows was coroner and justice of the peace in Yavapai County during that period.
Like everyone else concerned with the horrible events in Young, Charlie Meadows had no comments on the situation for Grey.
In spite of this roadblock to communication between the two men, they continued to correspond and even planned a trip together (the trip never happened). Zane Grey and Charlie Meadows must have felt a bond born of a love of adventure, travel, and exploration of the West.
Charlie's life story rivals any plot of Grey's for all of the above qualities. Why didn't Zane Grey write the story of Charlie Meadow's life? After all, he wrote the story of his ancestor Betty Zane's life, and he wrote "The Last of the Plainsmen" about Buffalo Jones.
Arizona Charlie's adventures began when, as a teenager, he rode from Visalia, Calif., to the Payson area with his family to homestead their Diamond Valley Ranch. Their six loaded wagons and hundreds of horses and cattle must have made quite an entrance into Rim Country in the spring of 1877.
The saga continued with Indian raids that killed Charlie's father and brother and later, the decline of the cattle market. After helping start Payson's rodeo in 1884, Charlie let his riding and roping skills take him into the Wild West Show business. Travel to Australia, the Orient, Europe, and Alaska brought him into contact with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Rudyard Kipling, Will Rogers and Jack London.
Along the way, Charlie met a young girl who had run away from home to join the Wild West Show in Australia. Their travels, shipboard romance and wedding, and his choice to stay in show business and join Buffalo Bill's show, rather than settle down into family life and fatherhood, all led to a plot twist Grey favored in many of his novels.
Charlie Meadows and his only child, daughter, Marion, never met until she was a grown woman. (Think back to Hell-Bent Wade and Columbine in Grey's "Mysterious Rider.")
After settling in Yuma and becoming the largest landholder in the county, Charlie devoted himself to his ranch and to building a fond relationship with his daughter. Before he came to Yuma, he had tried ranching, competing in rodeo events, riding and shooting in Wild West shows, running a newspaper in Alaska, supplying gold miners in the Yukon, and bringing culture to the frozen North with his Palace Grand Hotel.
What fun it would be to read about all this in a Zane Grey novel, with his talent for description and his ability to tell stories from both the man and the woman's point of view. The pioneer qualities Charlie Meadows possessed, plus his thirst for adventure, make him a perfect Zane Grey hero.
Zane Grey said he wrote romances. Today we hear that word and think soap opera or "Harlequin romance." But the word "romance" has quite a history. In medieval literature, romances were poetic tales about heroes such as King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Alexander the Great.
In modern terms, a romance is a fictional story which departs from ordinary life into the world of adventure and mystery. I think this definition of romance is what Zane Grey meant when he applied the term to his own writing. Yet there is also the roman a clef, a novel with a hidden meaning, based on incidents from a real person's life. These novels were known for their flirtation with libel laws, which might be why Grey chose not to write about the life of a contemporary, such as Charlie Meadows.
Charlie does stroll into Grey's "Stairs of Sand" so briefly that you might miss him if you read too quickly. But that's as close as he got to writing the story I think would have been one of his best.
Only one thing is left to choose a title for the story that will never be written -- Zane Grey's romance about Charlie Meadows.
I vote for "A Snowy Day in Yuma." I'll tell you why in the next column, and we can go on to other books we wish Zane Grey had written. Feel free to send in your ideas on this subject. And don't forget to visit The Rim Country Museum and see our Arizona Charlie exhibit, featuring artist Donn Morris's watercolor portrait of Charlie.
Source for this story is Jean Beach King's "Arizona Charlie." King is the granddaughter of Charlie's sister, Maggie.
Lita Nicholson is a member of the Northern Gila County Historical Society and wrote this column for the Roundup.